Dad kept the eggs in the pantry when he brought them up from the pen. He had a wooden egg box with dividers and after washing and graded the eggs; they were placed there ready for sale. There was a pair of scales to weigh the eggs and a candle in a box to check for cracks. He gathered the eggs up in a bucket and, bringing them in from the pen, put them on the pantry floor ready for sorting out. I was only about two years old at the time and this day, Ma thought that I was too quiet, so she went into the pantry to find me sat on the floor by the bucket, picking up an egg in one hand and then clapping it with the other. The floor was swimming in broken eggs and I was covered as well!!
Later on, Dad got permission from Great Grandma to knock a doorway through the pantry wall into the glass shed, remove the "slop stone" from the shed and install a white sink in the pantry. It was even tiled round with a soap dish built into the wall. What luxury!!! He managed to obtain a chrome tap from somewhere, to replace the brass one which was standard in those days. The only problem was that the tap had hot on it and we never had hot water. The doctor called to see Ma one day and asked if he could wash his hands. When he came back into the kitchen he said, "your tap tells lies!" The staircase was in the middle of the house and had a stair carpet, held in place with brass rods, which were taken out periodically and polished with Brasso. When this was being done, Billy and I would use the rods for a sword fight until we were shouted at.
A chenille curtain covered the doorway into the front room. I think that it was a sort of mid-brown colour, and it had bobs on the bottom hem for decoration. The front room or parlour as it was known, was only used on special occasions, and, in there in pride of place was the three piece suite made from rexine, a type of leather cloth, the forerunner of plastic. The cushions were velvet, with a piping across the front, and it had wooden arms made from oak, and was quite solidly constructed. The suite was a prize that Ma won in a competition at Rylance's furniture shop at Halfway House, just before she and Dad were married.
I got into trouble as a small boy over the suite. It was just after the war started and the blackout was in force. We had no electricity in the front room and consequently no means of illumination, other than a torch. An old man, Mr. Crank, called on us to buy eggs, and he carried a walking stick with a curved handle. I loved to play with this and pretend that it was a shepherd's crook, as we had been hearing of shepherds in our Sunday School class. This particular night, I was in the front room, pretending to round up the flock of imaginary sheep, when in my enthusiasm, I whacked away at the settee, pretending to beat the sheep. Ma, hearing the sound of stick on suite, shouted at me to stop. She came into the front room and, feeling her way along the settee, discovered three tears in the rexine. I was in disgrace, crying as I was sent to bed!! We never got it repaired properly except to stitch it with a bit of cotton.
Also in the parlour was the piece-de-resistance, a magnificent writing bureau. It was a beautiful piece of furniture, as near to an antique that we have ever had. There were four drawers, fitted with brass handles, which held things like hankies and spare linen. Above these were two pullouts with green baize tops that the lid rested on. The lid itself was inlaid in the centre with a picture of a shell, a border all round the edge, and four small shells one on each corner, all in inlay. In the desk were kept all the personal things that people keep, even to a small shoe that I had worn as a baby.
On top of the desk was a bookcase. I don't think that it was the original one, but it matched very well. This also was inlaid, and contained all the best books, stuff like Sunday School prizes bound in Morocco leather, a dictionary, in which were pressed the wedding day buttonholes worn by Ma and Dad, a set of encyclopedias of ancient vintage (Victorian, I think), and other memorabilia. It remained in the family until the 1950s when Ma, strapped for cash decided to sell it to John Robinson the antique man for 50 pounds, he got a bargain! The encyclopedias were fascinating reading for me. All the illustrations were woodcuts, and in them, I found the formula for gunpowder. Charcoal, saltpetre and sulphur. I thought that I could make this easily!! The only problem was the saltpetre or ammonium nitrate. I never could get any of this and any substitute wouldn't work, so sadly I never made any, but I always lived in hope. It's probably a good job that I didn't otherwise I might have been missing a few fingers!! Also this room was a wind-up gramophone, a cabinet model with doors to open when playing to allow the sound out. It had two small doors for the sound and two larger ones for the space where the records were kept. We really didn't need much space for records as we only had three! Two were selections from "Pirates of Penzance" and the other was "Bells across the meadow" and these were played on special occasions when there was a fire lit in the room. There was a big fitted cupboard in the corner by the fireplace, containing all sorts of forbidden things. It was one place that we didn't go into. There was even a bottle of Raisin wine in there. An alcoholic beverage in a teetotal house!! Christmas was celebrated with home made ginger wine and nothing stronger! If you went to Grandma Fosters you could choose between peppermint cordial and ginger wine. Also, as part of the furniture, was an old piano. I began to learn to play at one time, but never got any further than the white notes, which in our case were really yellow and made from ivory. The piano had been made by a firm from Tottington, near Bury and had never been tuned. I always remember Dad saying that the case of the piano was in "burr walnut". Of course at the time this description went right over my head and I thought that he meant bare walnut. It had a music stand that unfolded from inside the lid, which fascinated me. I recall that on the front of the piano was fretwork with red silk behind it, where at one time had been candlesticks. These were long gone, leaving only the holes where they had been.
We had a wireless that Ma's brother, Uncle Bill made, and it was a wonderful piece of work. Under the stairs, Dad put two shelves, the top one held the receiver and the other the batteries, but the loudspeaker was housed on top of the glass bookcase in the corner by the fireplace. There were two batteries, a grid-bias and a wet battery. The grid-bias was a battery about 8ins Square, and it had small holes in the top where you placed the terminal plugs, but I never knew its function. The wet or acid battery was in a glass case complete with a carrying handle and had to be re-charged every week, so consequently it paid to have two of them. We went down into Newtown, to Donald Heaton's Post Office to have a battery charged and I think that it cost 6d (2.5p) for the service. When you left the battery, he made a ticket out in two halves, tore a section off and attached it to the battery terminal, giving you the other piece to reclaim it the following week.
I only remember one programme we listened to, it was "Monday Night at Seven" Later on it became "Monday Night at Eight." Dad used to leave it tuned to just the one station, so I don't know whether it would have picked any others up or not.
In the living room, was an old coal fired boiler that was in the house when it was built. We never used it because we had the gas boiler in the glass shed, and Dad had been to see Grandma Foster about having it taken out. We discovered that the old boiler was a harbouring place for cockroaches. It was after Billy was born, and he had been having a bath on the rug in front of the fire.
Apparently he had been playing with a potato in the bath (we didn't have many toys!!), and this potato was left on the rug. We had all been down the road to Granddad Foster's house, and on our return found the potato covered in cockroaches. Dad traced their hiding place to the old boiler, so he decided that it should come out, and we children were sent off to Grandma's while the job was done. Dad got Ma to put the kettle and a pan on the stove, to get some boiling water, while he began dismantling the boiler. As soon as he was down to the last couple of brick courses, there was a mass exodus of insects, and Ma threw the boiling water all over them. She said that you could hear their shells cracking as the water hit them - Ugh!!!
Dad left a piece of chimney in the wall after the boiler had gone, and this made an alcove where later on, the wireless that Uncle Jack gave us was installed. This was of course after electricity was put in. Great Grandma decided that the entire row could have electricity, provided they paid for the installation. You could have two lights and one plug point for £5, so we had a plug and a light in the kitchen and a light in the main bedroom. Everywhere else was lit by gas. Granddad Foster wouldn't have it in because of the cost, and they managed with gas and candles for a long time, in fact until Grandma died in 1951. It must have been sometime at the beginning of the war when we had our supply connected. During the winters when it was really cold, we took the oven shelf wrapped in a blanket to keep warm in bed. Sometimes it was a brick, put in the oven to warm and then wrapped up. The windows in a morning would be covered it frost patterns and we would breathe on them to make patterns.
Great Grandma Foster
I went to see Great Grandma Foster every Saturday morning when I took the rent book to be marked up. She lived in the front room of 128, next door to us, a grand old lady who lived until she was 92 yrs of age, dying in 1944. I recall Dad saying to her when she was in her 80s, "Heah are yo gooin' on Grandma?" To which she replied "Ah'm noan so bad, but ah cawn't see fer t'threed a needle any moor beawt t’glasses"
She marked the rent book with a "blue lead" i.e. indelible pencil, which she licked first, leaving a blue mark on her tongue! 5/4d JF. This was the decimal equivalent of 22p. It might not have seemed much to pay for rent, but in those days pit wages for datallers, as Dad was, were only 39shillings a week (1.95p). Edna's Dad, Ted Twigg was a surface worker and he only got 33 shillings a week (1.65p) All the children in the row of houses took Grandma the rent money and when she had marked the book, (the page only holding about four entries, as she didn't wear any specs whilst writing,) she opened the biscuit tin and dispensed the arrowroot biscuits.
In the corner of the room, was a grandfather clock, Grandma's bed under the window, and some bronze horses on the mantelpiece. She also had a musical box, which we were allowed to play with. The pins on this were few and far between, as they'd rusted away so I never knew what the tune was, but it made a nice tinkling sound.
Grandma told me tales of Great Granddad, who had died a couple of years before I was born. He was a legendary drinker, who used to get delirium tremens, when he would see spiders and other creatures crawling all over him. In his working life, at Blundell's colliery, he spent most of his wages at the Blundell Arms or "Brazen Face" as it was known, in Foundry Lane opposite the pit gate. When all his money was gone, the ale was put on the slate and paid for on the next reckoning day. Once when the chimney needed sweeping, he took his muzzle-loading shotgun and fired it up the chimney to bring down the soot!! Sometimes when drunk, he took the shotgun and threatened to shoot Grandma. Once she told him she would brew him a barrel of ale, if he came straight home instead of calling in the pub. He agreed to this and she brewed some for him. She went outside to watch for him coming home, and there he was, coming down the road "slorring drunk", so she took the barrel, and rolling it outside, knocked out the bung and let the ale run down the gutter. "Ee, 'e wus nowt " she said.
Great Granddad had an allotment which was the one that Edna's Dad took later on, and Dad told me that he had a few muzzle loading shotguns on there. As children, we went exploring in Granddad’s shed at the bottom of his garden behind 114 Billinge Rd, and we found some rusty old tins of percussion caps, and taking the hammer to these, fired them off on the stable steps. They didn't half make a bang!! When I think back, these caps would be the ones that Great Granddad used on his guns. We found a small double-barreled derringer pistol in Granddad’s shed, it was minus the hammers, and it had no stock. Really it was just a skeleton, but we found a box of percussion caps that fitted on to the firing nipples, and we cracked these, using a toffee hammer. Just after the end of the war, some Dutch children were given a holiday in England, and Billy Bennett and his wife from Mitchell St. chapel put a couple of them up. The two boys were Jakob and Hari, and had very little English. Jakob took a fancy to the derringer and I have a suspicion that it ended up back in Holland somewhere.
Dad told me that after Great Granddad’s death in 1929, he and his brothers sawed the barrels from the guns to make ferrules for chisel handles. I'll bet the guns would have been worth something today as antiques.
Great Grandma had a hard life, bringing up a family of 12 children by taking in washing. She and Great Grandad, as a buffer for old age, built the row of houses where we lived, for those days there was no government funded Old Age Pension. I don't know how they raised the money to pay for them to be built, as Great Granddad boozed all his, but they managed it somehow. The houses still bear the legend "Hospital View T&JF 1898", this was from the fact that there was a fever hospital on the land opposite. Later on however, this became a hospital for tuberculosis sufferers, and then an old peoples home before its final demolition, the Spinney being built there later.
Dad would tell me tales of Great Grandma's brother, Tom Knowles, who was another boozer and fighter. One day, as he finished work at one pit and was going to start at another, he called in at the Hare and Hounds pub in Billinge Rd. When colliers were moving from pit to pit, they took their tools, i.e. spade, pick, hammer and saw, with them, locked up on an iron rod.
Tom got into an argument with someone or other, possibly by this time he would have been "well-oiled", and he got into a fight. He took his spade from the rod and, jumping on to a table, began whirling it round his head, threatening all and sundry. Someone sent for the Bobbies, and Tom went home down Little Lane before they arrived. The police came to his house, but Tom upended the table and, tearing a leg off it, said to the constables, "Come on then!!" I never found out what the outcome was.
After paying Grandma the rent, and having a biscuit, I went through into the backroom to see Uncle Harry and Aunt Charlotte. Dad's cousin Harry, who was a teenager at the time, got a comic paper called "The Jester" which I enjoyed reading and looking at pictures in it. There was one comic strip that I remember, entitled "Nutty Bolt and Tom Random, riding around the world on a tandem" I can see it now, these two lads, riding a tandem through different countries and having adventures. I imagined what it was like, and wished that I could do the same.
Uncle Harry had a fruit and vegetable round, and behind the house at the bottom of the yard was a brick built stable where he kept the horse that pulled the fruit cart. This had been built when the houses were constructed, as Uncle Harry was a cripple, and Grandma had set him up in business. He had contracted some sort of hip disease when a boy, and it had left him with a short leg, which meant that he had to wear a special boot with an iron on the sole to allow him to walk straight.
The stable had a hayloft, and it was in here that Cousin Harry would practice wrestling with his friends and they also did a bit of weight lifting. One of the King brothers, Enoch, and Harry's cousin, Jack Cheetham were among some of those who met there. Harry once told me of his father's strength. Although he had a short leg, he could wrestle, and was very strong. He could take two 56lb coal weights, and, holding them with one hand by the centre bar, turn them over, and placing a 28lb weight on top, hoist them above his head. No mean feat when so much weight is on a barbell but very good when you consider how he did it.
Dad's Uncle Jim was a well-known wrestler in the 1920s. They used to wrestle "catch as catch can" style, and I'm nearly sure that Uncle Jim wrestled at Springfield Park for a title at one time. In fact, a picture appeared in the local paper showing him with some more wrestlers of the time. He worked as a miner all his life, and he too was a strong man. Dad told me all about him. He could pull a tub filled with pit dirt back on to the rails by lifting it with its coupling, and there would be half a ton of dirt in it. Uncle Jim also was in the rescue brigade at Blundells colliery, but I never knew him personally as he died in 1929, 2 years before I was born.
These photos are the only ones that exist of Uncle Jim.
The studio shot was probably done for publicity and he is in his prime on this. The other was taken from a news cutting and was part of a picture of a wrestling match taken on Springfield Park, the old Latics ground.
Both of these photos were taken at Arthur Ashurst’s studio on Spring Bank. It was something that everyone did. Arthur had a big plate camera and he would set the scene and then disappear under a sheet at the back of the camera to compose the shot. The studio was really a big wooden shed, but quite artistic.
Our Billy was born in 1935. I don't recall much of his birth except what I was told by my mother. Apparently, Dad had gone across to the hospital to phone for the midwife, as there were no telephone kiosks nearby those days, and no one had a house phone. When he got back, Ma had given birth on the rug in front of the fire. Dad was in a state of shock, and had to take time off work!!
Billy was a very hungry baby and was soon having supplements. Ma got some special biscuits from the chemists, I can see them now "Mellings Food Biscuits" imported from America. The tin had a lead seal, which had to be cut off, and I think that the tin was green and gold. These biscuits were a type of rusk, which dissolved in warm milk and Billy could shift a pint cup full of these at one go. Uncle Charlie was in the house one day as Mother made Billy's pint cupful of rusks. "He'll never shift aw that," he said. Ma said, "Just watch 'im" and he stood there in amazement as Billy downed his mugful of rusks!
Billy was a very strong willed child, and Ma was under the weather herself, as after he was born, as she developed phlebitis in her legs and had to wear knee length elastic stockings for the rest of her life. He was playing her up one day, and she just managed to put him in the backyard and close the door on him. He kicked the door and howled for a while, in fact Mrs Stretton looked over the wall to see what the commotion was. Finally he started to sob "Let me in, I'll be a good boy". When he was allowed in he said to Ma, "I didn't think that you could do that." After that, he only needed threatening with being put out to bring him to heel! My playmates at that time were Alf Brown and Norman Molyneux, who both lived in the same row. We had an old lorry cab in the back yard given to us by either Tom Rollins or Uncle Joe. This still had a steering wheel and we drove for many an imaginary journey in it. One day, as we were playing, Alf went into our house and managed to lock himself in, and it was done so simply. On the backdoor was a spring lock, held back by means of a sneck.
Alf had gone inside, and released the sneck to stop me from chasing him. The only problem was that everyone else was outside at the time and Ma was chatting to Mrs Brown. When Alf realized what he had done, he tried to open the door but was unable to fathom out how to operate the lock. We could see him through the glass panel in the door, Ma was trying to give him instructions, "Push it this way Alfred." No avail. "Try it that way," Alf was by this time getting hysterical and after each attempt would start to sob. I think he thought he was going to locked in forever.
Finally, someone said "Why don't we try our key in your front door" This was done and, eureka! It worked. Later on it was found that everyone's front door had the same lock on it!! Great Grandma must have bought a job lot when the houses were built. We didn't have a lot of problems in those days with burglars!!
Alf once came out into the backs eating treacle butty, so I rushed in to ask Ma for one. "You’ll not like it" she said, but I was adamant. Ma only kept black treacle in stock to make parkins with, or to add to the revolting mixture of "Brimstone and Treacle". I went off with my treacle butty and after the first bite; Uncle Harry's hens ate the rest. He also enjoyed eating cornflakes out of a newspaper. His mother made a bag from the paper and Alf chomped away happily. Dad asked him what they were one day and Alf replied "tompies" Dad was nonplussed by this and said "let me have a look at them" "Why! They are cornflakes" "yes" said Alf, "tompies"
One day, when I had been left in the house on my own, it must have been just before we moved out in 1945, and it struck me that I had never been up in the loft space. Well, you know what teenagers are like for doing things that they shouldn't do, and I was no different. I got the stepladders and went upstairs, removed the piece of glass that covered the fanlight, and climbed inside.
It was like being in another world. I found that I could go right along the whole row, as there was an access hole through to next door and so on to the end of the row. I looked down on to everyone's landing, and made the mistake of leaving a handprint on Mrs Strettons glass. I never said anything about going up there but Mrs Stretton said to Ma, "Annie, there is a hand print on the glass in the fanlight, and I don't know who can have put it there" Of course I had to own up to it and got told off, because I could have slipped and gone through the ceiling.
We had a very happy childhood, with not a lot of money about, but everyone was in the same boat and neighbours helped out when the need arose. There wasn't a lot of traffic about, in fact when a car went past you usually knew whose it was! The only people who I remember having cars were Fred Hewitt who had a Rolls Royce, which he kept in a garage near Alf's dad's coal garage. This was used in his taxi business. Bob Winstanley had a little Austin, a Mr. Franklin had a car, an Alvis, I think garaged near Tom Rollins's coal yard, and that was about it. Hector Fairhurst did any jobs that were required on Mr. Franklin’s car.
The fields behind the coal yards and pens were, in those days farmed and belonged to a farm in Billinge Rd opposite the Hare and Hounds pub. It was a tenanted farm run by a family named Peters. Joe Peters had a son Fred and a daughter May, and they both attended Highfield School, Fred being my age and May two years older.
The farmhouse was a very old one and had a stone set in the wall with a date on it, 1609. I think that the road had been raised during the passage of time since the house was built, because there were two steps down from the road to the front door, which was right on the road side. The land belonging to the farm included all the land that is now part of the industrial estate of Stephens Way. Behind the farmhouse about 50 yds back was a piggery, and unemployed men built this during the depression years of the 30s. I remember Dad referring to it as "t'scheme". It was of course the Dole Scheme, which was aimed at bringing employment to the out of workmen in the area. Attached to the side of the farmhouse was another small, brick built cottage of only one storey, and Dick Gordon and his wife tenanted this. There was a hoarding on the side of the house advertising Persil amongst other things. One ad. That I remember depicted three boys who had been fishing for tiddlers which they were carrying home in jam jars Two had very white shirts on and they were sniggering at the other boy, whose shirt was an "off white". I always felt sorry for the boy in the dirty shirt!! Another ad was the Guinness one with the man carrying a girder on his head; a glass of stout balanced at the rear end of the girder, and the caption " I must have left it behind!"
Across the road from the farmhouse was a row of ancient cottages, three in number with a small shop at the end. The row must have been built at the beginning of the 19th century sometime. A lady by the name of Molly Close ran the shop and it was a source of sweets and lucky bags for us children. One day, however, the shop got on fire somehow, and the day afterwards, as we were coming home from school, we explored the smoking ruins. I'll never forget the smell of the charred wood on the staircase and ceiling. There were toffees melted all over the floor, and water everywhere. There was some attempt later to renovate it but it never seemed up to much. The actual shell of the building is still standing today as I write. The farm buildings and the rest of the row of cottages have disappeared long ago, but there stands the old shop in its solitary splendour!!
This is all that is left of the old sweet shop.
Next to the farm was the Delph. This was a stone quarry, which still worked up to the start of the Second World War, producing steps, lintels and window cills from the sandstone quarried there. As we went to school we could hear the stone saw as it cut through the stone blocks, and see the water sprays over the top of it.
After the quarry was worked out, it was used for a rubbish dump for a long time and became a children's playground, albeit a very dangerous one at that. The word was that a boy had been killed trying to climb the sheer rock face in pursuit of a kestrel or sparrow hawk's nest. We were warned about going there and even threatened, but it made no difference, we would go and slide down the slope to the bottom, seeing what we could salvage from the assorted rubbish. There was a ledge at the bottom that was reached without much difficulty, and grass and trees grew there amongst the rusty bits of cars and other junk. It was really eerie when you were down there on your own, very still and quiet, with nothing moving.
The NCB decide to use it to tip spoil from Summersales Colliery in the late 1940's and 50s and it was alive with people picking coal from the pit dirt. The lorry driver tipped his load at the top of the hole and the scavengers made sure that what they didn't want was pushed down the slope. In fact, it was dangerous to be halfway down, as all the debris from the top was sent hurtling towards you. I saw one lad get a right good smack in the middle of his back from a cascading piece of pit dirt. Finally the spoil set on fire due to spontaneous combustion and it had to be extinguished by using tons of stone dust. Wigan Corporation finally filled it in when they wanted tipping space for the rubble from slum clearances carried out in the '60s, and after this it was grassed over as a playing field.
Just before the war started in 1939, some houses were built on Billinge Road, on a piece of land formerly occupied by a cottage and garden, where a Billy Porter lived, and he was a scoutmaster in one of the groups in Wigan. Dad told me that Billy would hold his scout meetings there and the bugle could be heard being played as the flag came down at night. These houses were numbered136A, 136B, 138A, 138B, and 140. This was to make sure that the numbers tallied with the rest of Billinge Rd.
After completion of these houses, the war started and any further building suspended. The house builder was John Fairhurst who lived in Winstanley, and his son, Gordon was in my class at Highfield School. He was always known as "John Daw" but I never knew why. When he built houses, he salvaged material from old property to use in the new ones. He was well known for this and the story goes that one-day, the butcher cart (horse drawn of course) was coming down the road, driven by a woman. When John Daw saw her he said "Here 'er is wi' 'er rotten owd beef" To which she replied, "Well, ah cawnt cover it up wi' pebbledash like tha does wi’ thi rotten owd bricks!"
By the side of the new houses was a piece of land bounded on one side by Bob King's pen, and on the other by the wall of Armstrong's shop and this had been used by John Daw as a builder's yard and, still full of building material, became our playground. We got chased off many times, but it was magnetic and we always came back. There were a couple of purlins, some bricks and a pile of house slates, which we used to build gang huts.
We decided this sort of gang hut was a bit tame so the next effort was a "dug-out". (We were very war orientated in those days.) Alf, Norman and I brought spades from home, mine was a trenching tool picked up by Dad from somewhere. We set to work and got digging. It seemed that we had gone down a long way but I don't think it was much more than a couple of feet and the ground must have been pretty soft for us to dig. It was mainly pit dirt, as during the 1800s there had been a shaft sunk in the area, and coal worked. Soon it was ready for the top to be put on, and we found pieces of tin sheet and tree branches to cover it with, putting the excavated dirt on top of them. It was fantastic. We left a hole just big enough to crawl through for access.
We came back the next day to find that the shelter as we called it was wrecked! One of the King brothers had pulled the branches away and filled in the hole so we had to start all over again.
About this time, Mrs Armstrong moved out of her shop. It was a very old building, about the same age I would guess as Billy Porter's cottage. It was quite a large place, and from what I can recall, had 3 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, a pantry and the shop itself. I think that Mrs Armstrong and her husband, Ben were of retiring age, and they moved over into the new council estate on Worsley Hall along with their daughter Florrie, who never married.
When she moved out, we children moved in! Harold Parkinson, who was older than us and lived in the row of cottages known as Stephen's Yard, climbed through an open window and opened the side door for us. We all trooped in and started to explore the place. Great adventure! We went into the shop and, behind the door was a wire cage to catch the mail, it had in it the usual stuff that came to people in business, bills, circulars etc. We decided that Mrs Armstrong had been a German spy and that these bills and things were messages in code! The government at the time bombarded us with posters saying things like "Keep Mum Dad" and "Careless talk costs lives", so it's no wonder that we had these strange ideas about people.
This obsession about war and spies brings to mind another occasion, when Dad and Ma were taking our Billy and me for a walk, this being something that was done a lot in those days. We would go through the countryside, which still existed then, before all the council estates were built on Marsh Green and Worsley Hall. Down Auburn's Lane, which is now Norley Hall Avenue, and come back through Walthew House Lane to Marsh Green. Another walk was to go to Windy Arbour, down past the pit there, through the farmyard, and follow the old wagon road past Baxter pit and come out in Goose Green.
Sometimes we walked round Tanpit Cottages and called at Halsall's farm for some apples, which Dad stored, wrapped in newspaper, on a slatted floor under the stairs, to last us through the winter. We then walked back past Kearsley's farm which stood where Holmes House Avenue is now, and down "Watkin's Brew", (still there and accessed through Ravenswood Ave.) coming out in Foundry lane. Dad pulled "Haigs"(haws) from the bushes as we passed, and flirted them at our ears, they didn't half sting!
We were on such a walk one day when Billy decided that he needed a drink. It was all about the Halfway House pub, and Ma would have died of thirst before go into a pub, so she knocked on the door of a lady living nearby, who worked with her at one time. "Can you give him a drink of water?" said Ma "To be sure" was the reply. When the water came Billy said, "I don't want it." Ma was furious with him and apologized to the lady. I took the cup and drank it myself to save further embarrassment.
When we had gone a few yards. Ma said to him "What's wrong with you, you want a drink and then you don't want one" Billy replied, "I thought that she might have been a German spy!!"
We played in Armstrong's for quite a while, making "dirt bombs" from pieces of torn down curtain, and hurling these through the open windows at our playmates below. We played all sorts of war games, or "Flash Gordon", as he was appearing on the pictures at the local cinema the Carlton, where we went on a Saturday afternoon. Alf brought his dad's water spray to act as a ray gun, and we climbed into the old apple tree in John Daws to spray rays down on our playmates The local council sent workmen to board up the front window and remove the floors from the house but this didn't deter us in the least, we walked along the exposed beams, and made trapezes from orange box rope, i.e. rope that was tied around the boxes of oranges that had come from Spain, or from the ancient electrical wiring in the shop. I shudder to think now of the dangers we exposed ourselves to. We even pushed over the middle wall of the passageway; I can see it now, about six of us, with our hands to the wall, pushing it to get it to start rocking, before it fell over. It could have gone either way and could have dropped on us instead.
The children who played in the old shop were Alf Brown and his sister Stella, Norman Molyneux and their Marion, I was there of course but our Bill was a bit too young to play. Sid Marsden, and his cousins Len and Gerald, Fred and May Peters. Gerald and Sid lived in the row of houses across from the shop and Len lived in the Stone Row near the Delph. Sometimes Bill Hurst came up as well. We used to play "marbles" and one of the games was "chucky". This involved digging out a hole about 3ins deep and 3ins across near to the garden wall, probably by means of a clog heel or sometimes a 6ins nail. The game was "odds and evens" and sometimes it was played "for lends" or again "for keeps".
I recall one day, Bill Hurst coming to play and we went round the backs where Gerald Marsden lived. Here, Bill wanted to play Gerald at "chucky". Bill only had about 10 marbles or murps as they were known, and Gerald had a bagful of about 50. I had given Bill a miss-shaped marble, a bit like an egg, and he was using this to play.
They started off playing for "lends" but it soon got more serious and they started to play for "keeps" First of all it was "Twos on", which meant that each put up two marbles and the "chucker" aimed these at the "chucky hole" An odd number in the hole and the chucker got them. When Bill was chucking, he used the miss-shaped marble and this always bounced out. Gerald was losing and started to get desperate, "Let's have 10 on" Bill threw and won, "Let's have 15 on" Soon, Gerald's bag of marbles had emptied itself into Bill's pocket. "Here" Bill said, "I'll set you up again," This meant giving Gerald some back to play with. These of course went the same way of the rest.
Gerald finally got fed up and threw the marbles bag at Bill saying, "You might as well have it!" We left the scene with Bill an outright winner, and as we walked past the old shop, Bill took the miss-shaped murp and skimmed it away!!
Playing with Bill Hurst, we went round to the May Mill once, down Foundry Lane, looking for mill spindles. We found a couple, which we carried off home to make into throwing knives. We sharpened the points on the stable steps and, drawing a face of Hitler on a piece of board, took aim at it with our "throwing knives" All went well until Bill miscalculated and put one through his clog! He took it off to see blood seeping out of his sock. Luckily for him, when he took the sock off, he had only grazed his toe. He thought at first that he had skewered it!!
That put paid to the throwing knives and we threw them over into Uncle Harry's pen.
Bill and I were mates for a couple of years, until he decided to join the "Boy Soldiers" or Army Cadets. I wasn't into that at all. We had a few escapades during our time together and one of these was when we were in the woods near May Mill. Bill decided that, as he could swim, he would go for a dip in the mill lodge, which was a rather daft thing to do but boys don't think of danger. We got to the lodge, jumped over the trench where the feeder stream ran, and Bill stripping off, dived in. He had swum but a few strokes when there was an angry shout from the edge of the wood. "Gereawt o' theer" It was Ackers's farm hand, a little chap, wearing gaiters and smoking a stubby pipe. It was his land that we were trespassing on. Bill scrambled out completely starkers and grabbing his clothes, jumped back across the brook. We both hightailed it into the woods again, stopping briefly for Bill to dry himself down with a large handkerchief, which was all that he had. He then dressed again, albeit rather damply!!
Another time we had cycled to Windy Arbour to explore. We made our way into the woods there and discovered a lake hidden in the trees. By the lake was a small boathouse, used by Squire Bankes to house a small rowing boat. We tried to get into it with a view to taking the boat out on the lake, but it was securely locked. Just then, a flapping of wings disturbed looking and us round, we saw what looked to us as a giant bird coming towards us with neck outstretched. It was a swan protecting its nest. We turned and ran without stopping until we reached our bikes again!!
During the war, all the iron railings were taken for scrap, all the park rails went and this meant that people could go into the park after dark, although the park keeper locked the big gates, there were holes in the hedges to get through. Of course this didn't concern us until we were about 14 or so, as we weren't allowed out after dark.
One episode that occurred during the blackout deserves a mention though. It was during the winter months and must have been 1940-1. We were all in the house, listening to the wireless, when there was such a racket outside at the front. Banging on the door screams of "Oh please let me in, help me, help me!!!" Dad went to the door and, as he opened it, a young woman fell into his arms. She was hysterical. Dad brought her into the light and, clutched in her hand was a handbag strap, minus the bag.
Gradually, she calmed down and she began to compose herself. "What's happened?" Ma said to her. "Someone's grabbed my handbag in the blackout, I couldn't see who it was, but he pushed me and I fell" We found out that her name was Moorcroft and that she worked in the office of Lord and Sharman's slipper factory up the road and she was worried because the keys to the safe were in her bag. When she had calmed down sufficiently and had a cup of tea, Dad took her to the Police Station in Newtown, where her fiancé’s father worked.
Her fiancé, Jack Edwards, was away in the forces and Jack's father was the sergeant in Newtown. Later on the Police found the bag empty and floating in the canal, and a man, Billy Woods from Wesley St. was apprehended for the crime and got 3 years in Walton Jail. He had two other brothers, Ronnie and Jimmy and all three were a bad lot, always in and out of jail.
The blackout had to be seen to be believed. There wasn't a glimmer of light after dark. and anyone foolish enough to show any through an open curtain or door risked being shouted at by the Air Raid Wardens who patrolled the streets People were allowed a small torch, which had a No8 battery, or an AA as they are called today. I think at the time that the batteries cost four pence farthing each. It's a price that sticks in my mind, because in fact, this was one reason that the farthing was kept as legal tender during the war.
There were salvage drives going on all the time to help the war effort. I remember taking an old aluminum pan to school and putting it with a pile of other aluminum utensils in one of the classrooms. It was going "To build Spitfires" so we were told. I hope so, because all the rails that were taken off were still in the scrap yards after the end of the war. The authorities were always having salvage drives of one kind and another. One of these was a "paper drive" on Wigan Market Square. Alf Brown and I, along with some other boys, took a truckload of paper down to the square. We had a load of old books from Granddad Foster, newspapers etc. and when we arrived, completely knackered, this lady from one of the organizations, wearing a "sensible" felt hat, possibly WVS, said to us "Thank you boys, put them over there" pointing to a massive pile of waste paper in the middle of the square. Talk about a feeling of underachievement! Its a fair old drag from Billinge Road to the Market Square, and all the way back again, with a decrepit old iron wheeled sack truck!!